Speaking Up – Language as a Factor for Social Mobility in Denmark

We investigate the implications of speaking non-standard forms of Danish for youth commencing higher education. Employing a broad range of methodical approaches, the project investigates the linguistic everyday life of students and employees, focusing specifically on linguistic difference and competence.

Speaking Up is an empirical investigation of the implications of speaking in a local dialect, foreign accent or multiethnic youth style for the social mobility of Danish youth. The project observes first-year students of teacher education and social education, and their teachers and student counsellors in three Danish cities.

The aim of the project is to answer the following questions: Does speaking in non-standard ways limit the possibility of social mobility for individuals? What are the consequences of speaking non-standard Danish when commencing higher education? I.e. how does having a dialect or minority language as first language affect social mobility? And how (if at all) are notions of prestigious language (re)produced by students and professionals in the educational system?


Sub-project 1: The linguistic everyday life among students of teacher and social education

Astrid Ag, postdoc

With an ethnographic starting point, this project investigates which language styles students associate with academic success, and how academic success is negotiated among students. This provides an insight into how and which linguistic mechanisms have educational consequences. Data will be collected in two steps one year apart, thus potentially shedding light on the connection between student drop-out and speaking a non-standard form of Danish.

Sub-project 2: Narratives of language as restraining or enabling social mobility

Pia Quist, professor and principal investigator

Where SP 1 takes the perspective of students, SP 2 gives voice to career counsellors and Danish teachers (dansklærere). The objective is to reach insights into professionals’ views and experiences, in order to analyze discourses and ideologies that might influence the ways students are met (and ‘heard’) as they move through education. The same professionals that are interviewed in SP 2 will, after an interval of about one year, be asked to take part in the matched guise experiment of SP 4, thus adding a responsive/reactive perspective to the narratives consciously told in interviews.

Sub-project 3: Linguistic variation, accommodation and style-shift in interaction

Anna Kai Jørgensen, PhD Fellow

The focus of this PhD project is the small phonetic differences that may ‘disclose’ a speaker as geographically and socially “out of place”. Looking specifically at language in interaction, the aim is to study how, if at all, speakers accommodate their speech by shifting linguistic style. Different types of audio recordings of first-year students will be analysed using selected acoustic methods.

Sub-project 4: Language attitudes and social mobility 

Nicolai Pharao, associate professor

What do adult Danes think about the ways young people talk? Through a series of experiments, we will investigate 1) whether their language attitudes are similar to those observed in teenagers and 2) whether these attitudes influence evaluations of how well the young people are expected to do in the future. While it may very well be that adults can agree on what “proper Danish” sounds like, does that also mean that they believe that teens who do not talk like that will not do so well?


  • Prof. of Discourse Analysis Alexandra Georgakopoulou, Kings College London
  • Prof. in Child and Youth Studies Rickard Jonsson, Stockholm University
  • Prof. of Sociolinguistics Devyani Sharma, Queen Mary University of London
  • Prof. of Sociology Mads Meier Jæger, University of Copenhagen.
  • Prof. of Sociolinguistics Frans Gregersen, University of Copenhagen


Column in Weekendavisen by Pia Quist.




Name Title Phone E-mail
Ag, Astrid Associate Professor +4535328486 E-mail
Jørgensen, Anna Kai PhD Fellow +4535326242 E-mail
Pharao, Nicolai Associate Professor +4535328647 E-mail
Quist, Pia Professor +4535328513 E-mail

Funded by

Project period: 2021-2025 (including one extra year due to corona)

PI: Professor Pia Quist